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Networking giants to detail new strategies

Announcements from Cabletron, Nortel, and Alcatel should revolve around two trends driving the network equipment industry, namely Net technology and telephony over data networks.

Fundamental technology shifts are underway in the networking industry and next week Atlanta will be ground zero for new developments.

Announcements from Cabletron Systems, Nortel Networks, and Alcatel, among others, will revolve around two trends driving the network equipment industry--the strong demand for Internet access technology and the push for voice capabilities across a data network.

Cabletron's reworked strategy in this space will be one among many moves from various network equipment players as the industry convenes in Atlanta for the Supercomm telecommunications trade show.

With its stock recovering from 52-week lows, Cabletron is hoping its latest batch of technology will pave a new path for broadband merchants and communications providers.

Cabletron's strategic shift comes amid talk of selling some of the company's technology, and continued rumors that Cabletron may be bought by a larger firm, such as Ericsson.

As an indication of company's continued troubles, current chief and co-founder Craig Benson resigned today, handing the reins to Piyush Patel.

The company plans to augment existing technology and roll out updated tools in three areas. Cabletron will provide broadband equipment for service providers, add support for secure connections over the Internet, and provide new options for communications companies looking to offer voice services over a digital subscriber line (DSL) connection.

Company executives claim Cabletron now collects 10 percent of its revenue from the Internet service provider (ISP) segment. But most believe the firm has been late to the game in the ISP market, choosing to focus instead on its loyal corporate customers.

"Cabletron's done a good job of filling out their product line, but it's going to be tough for them to break in," noted Mike McConnell, an analyst with industry consultants Infonetics Research. "They haven't been playing in this market space."

Craig Johnson, principal with the Pita Group, a Portland, Oregon-based independent consultantcy, echoed the same sentiment. "They just have fundamental problems they're faced with," he said. "They should go after higher risk plays--they really have nothing to lose."

Cabletron plans to add a cable-based "module" to its SmartSwitch Router, the company's current all-in-one switching device now in trials. Also planned are two new SmartSwitch devices--the 600 and 700-- that offer virtual private networking (VPN) capabilities for small businesses and branch offices. The SmartSwitch 600 and 700 will be available within a month.

The FlowPoint arm of Cabletron intends to launch two new DSL-based routing devices that will allow voice traffic over the same portion of a traditional phone line used for DSL data transmission. The two models, the 2200V and the 255V, are scheduled to ship in August.

Nortel's moves
While Cabletron continues to fill its strategic holes, Nortel is expected to formally discuss its plans to add voice capabilities to its data equipment, made up largely of technology acquired from Bay Networks. The integration of voice capabilities into data gear based on Internet protocol (IP) is expected to be one of the most hotly contested and debated niches in networking over the next few years.

The strategy is expected to build on Nortel's early work in the market for voice and data equipment, released in March. It will also expand on plans detailed this spring and scheduled to be available this summer.

In addition to plans to tie the company's Accelar line of so-called switch routers to Nortel's traditional cash cow--its Meridian PBX systems--sources familiar with the company's plans said they will extend its voice capabilities to include BayStack small business-oriented switching technology. Also in the works are further steps in unifying management tools from Bay Networks and the telco side of Nortel, according to sources.

In March, Nortel essentially opened up its software to third parties and promoted its tools as a basis for developers to write converged voice and data applications. The first products from that push--highlighted by an alliance with Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and Microsoft--were launched by HP earlier this week.

"They are clearly talking about IP," said Kathie Hackler, an analyst with market researcher Dataquest. "They are looking at more open architectures and allowing third parties to write applications on their platforms in network management. That's a switch for Nortel."

Overall, Nortel plans to offer 15 to 20 software and hardware tools, both existing and new, for Internet telephony, sources said.

A Nortel spokeswoman declined to comment on upcoming announcements.

"They've got all the voice switch and PBX experience and with the Bay acquisition, they got the routing and data and format capabilities," noted Bill Flanagan, analyst with industry consultants NetReference. "They got the technology. They seem to have thought it through."

Alcatel's acquisition binge
French equipment giant Alcatel plans to discuss further efforts to integrate more than $2 billion in acquisitions over the past several months.

Much like Nortel, Alcatel is attacking the IP-based equipment market from a voice and telecom background, highlighted by the rollout of a new gateway between its signaling system and remote access hardware from Assured Access. The new equipment is scheduled to go into testing in the third quarter of this year.

The Universal Access Gateway lets a service provider implement voice over an IP-based network without losing many of the advanced call features phone users are used to.

The gateway is part of a huge push for Alcatel next week. Other items addressed by the firm will include: A new optical-based system for metropolitan area networks called the Optinex 1686, a new gateway to tie traffic base don frame relay with asynchronous transfer mode, or ATM, and a New World Digital Loop Carrier that ties traditional circuit-based phone systems to IP-based ?packet? networks.

News.com?s Wylie Wong contributed to this report.